Thursday, December 15, 2005

Legislation 'lets loyalists off the hook'

William Graham:

The Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill which deals with on the runs is based on "outrageous double standards" – SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell said yesterday (Tuesday).

Speaking at Westminster where he moved for amendments to the bill Dr McDonnell said the legislation lets loyalist paramilitaries off the hook without decommissioning.

Dr McDonnell said that once the governments started putting real pressure on the IRA they decommissioned and committed to end all activity.

He asked: "But what of loyalists? They have not decommissioned a single bullet. They have not ended their activity. The Independent Monitoring Commission confirms that they are up to their necks in drug dealing, intimidation and racketeering.

"Under a 2003 Hillsborough side deal between the British government and Sinn Féin – and the legislation which implements it – loyalists are entitled to go free without so much as decommissioning a single bullet or committing to end all their criminal activities.

"In fact, all that the bill requires for a paramilitary organisation to benefit is that the Secretary of State has to recognise their ceasefires. What crimes they are up to don't matter."

Dr McDonnell complained that even the definition of a ceasefire is flexible. He recalled that just this year the UVF murdered four people, without the Secretary of State specifying the paramilitary group.

"It was only when they then shot at the police that he moved to act.

"The IRA had to decommission and commit to end all activity to benefit. Why does the government think that loyalists should not have to do likewise? Or were loyalists simply overlooked when this legislation was being drafted?" he asked.

The South Belfast MP said it was difficult to convey in words the anger that this double standard on loyalism creates.

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